Years back, I was traveling home from the college hostel one day, or may be it was from home to the hostel, I don’t remember that too well. The second class coach of the train was packed with people, old, young, also the very young. The weather was sultry, the kind where tempers are likely to get frayed for the silliest of things.
From somewhere further ahead in the bogie could be heard the voice of a hawker calling out in his singsong voice, Narangiiiiiii! Suddenly from quite close by, as if an echo, another voice cried out in exactly the same tones: Narangiiiiiii!
Almost all of those seated in the coach that day paused in whatever they were doing, to smile. Many of those sitting away from the source of the second voice, craned their necks to catch a glimpse, so sweet was it, and full of ill-concealed joy and laughter.
The little girl must have been around three years old. Her parents made a half-hearted attempt to shush her. She was in no mood to be shushed. The approval of those fellow travellers sitting immediately around her was evident and she was now playing to an audience. In spite, curiously enough, she was in a world of her own, arranging her dolls on the seat, folding her kerchief neatly and then unfolding it, only to repeat the same, looking for something inside her Mom’s handbag, climbing onto her Dad’s lap and holding onto his ears with each tiny hand.
In short she was a bundle of energy. But, in between all this she kept up with the hawker’s calls as it got closer and then moved further away, matching his every Narangiiiiiii! with one of her own. She would then look up and smile at us mischievously, and captivated by her innocence, we smiled back too.
It has been more than thirty years now, but I remember my Narangi girl as if it all happened yesterday. Recently I have been thinking a lot more of her because, well because (Yeah, I dare you to laugh at my reason!), I have got into this habit of repeating bird calls. The myna on the branch of the tamarind tree calling out gets a similar response fro me. Sometimes it is kingfisher or barbet, calling out mid-flight and I call right back to them. Of course the koels have been getting the kuhu-kuhuus since pretty long. As for the rufous treepies, who can resist imitating their many cries? Not me.
The other day I caught myself repeating after the man selling naranga. He calls in a particular way, naaaaranga-naaaaranga. The same thing happened with the man who goes paaperaay-paaperayyy looking to buy old newspaper. Then it struck me, OMG, first the bird-calls, and now the hawkers too! I am turning into a regular Narangi girl.
The only silver lining to the whole thing is that my voice is not loud enough to carry outside the four walls of my home, and is only for my own ears, and Luci’s of course. Still, I dread the day I might involuntarily call out Narangiiiiiii! (or its equivalent) or even go Kookieee-koooookie after some bird, totally unaware of my surroundings, while standing in a public place.